A rare thing happened at Battleford town council Monday: an “against” vote was cast.
Though the Town had completed its budget discussions May 1, councillors needed to wait for a council session to formally institute the changes they had agreed on – a $50 dollar increase to the base tax rate for residential properties, a $100 increase to base commercial tax and a $150 dollar increase to the minimum tax (for both residential and commercial properties). The mill rate remained unchanged, at 6.79.
The tax levy for 2011 was a total of $2,415,148. The additional $200,000 that the town had to recoup for local improvements to roads and streets represented about eight per cent of this total. Sheryl Ballendine, the town administrator, prepared 11 tax scenarios for council that involved increases to one, two or all of the mill rate, minimum tax and base tax and showed how much money each plan was worth.
The scenario the town chose recoups an additional $105,260 over last year's tax levy, with other scenarios recouping everything from $71,047 (increasing the mill rate to 7.29 from 6.79) to $228,986 (increasing the mill rate to 7.79, increasing base residential tax by $50 and base commercial tax by $100). None of the scenarios contemplated by the town involved increasing the mill rate by more than one or increasing base tax by more than $50 for residential properties or $100 for commercial properties.
Several scenarios increased tax revenues mostly through increases to the mill rate. One involved increasing the mill rate to 7.79 and keeping the minimum and base tax at the same rate. That plan would have recouped a total of $142,136 over last year's numbers.
All councillors except Donna Lavin supported the new tax policy. Garth Walls, when he spoke at the roundtable, appeared to support a different policy.
“I think it's a mixture of mill rate and base tax that moves things forward, and makes sure that everybody's paying a fair portion for the basic services that everyone receives. I'm comfortable with a relatively small increase in mill rate and a small increase in base tax.”
Walls was corrected by Odishaw later, and voted in support of the agreed-upon policy change. Bill Halewich explained his support of the increase by arguing, “The base tax is a fair way of gaining revenues when we're repairing roads. Roads are for everybody in the community … this affects everybody with a property.”
Halewich went on to explain he would be in support of raising base tax rates to $1,200 by 2020.
Lavin was the only dissenting voice, explaining that the issue was “a lifestyle choice. If you're going to drive a big truck, you pay more for fuel. The big picture, we just need x number of dollars to run the town, and by raising base tax we're lowering the taxes on the larger houses.”
The town was obviously not considering a tax decrease for larger houses, but an increase to the base tax affects smaller properties disproportionately from large ones, unlike a mill-rate increase.
Susan McLean Tady also took issue with the increase, though she eventually voted for it. Lavin explained the base tax increase would most adversely affect seniors living on fixed incomes, but ultimately agreed to it because it amounted to only $50.
Odishaw justified the increase to the base tax by explaining that “the people who choose to live in the big shacks, the businesses that choose to build big buildings will choose to build in other places. Somehow you need to be competitive to attract those.”
He also repeated the argument given by Halewich, who argued that because roads were used by everyone in the community, a flat tax increase is not unfair.
Lavin's lone “against” vote was only enough to delay the creation of the new tax policy and could not keep the vote from passing. Lavin accordingly recorded “against” votes for the first two votes, but “for” for the final vote.